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Huygens runs longer than expected

January 14, 2005

While NASA (under happily soon-to-be-gone Sean O’Keefe) can’t seem to lift a shuttle to fix the super-useful Hubble space telescope, the European Space Agency has lifted the horizons of human imagination.  Their Huygens space probe outlasted its design expectations to send back dozens of pictures and other data from Saturn’s mysterious moon, Titan.

When the batteries finally went dead (long after they were expected to,) Huygens was resting on the surface sending back pictures, mass-spectometry data, and even sounds.  We may get to hear thunder on another world.

There were so many hazards, so many ways it could have failed to work.  One system – a data channel – did fail but it was backed up by redundant systems.  We’ve seen unprocessed pictures of what looks like a hydrocarbon seashore, rocks on the surface, ice – material for insight into another realm.

Everything about this mission is mind-blowing: the planning, the design, how it was built, the distance it had to travel, the time it had to survive the cold of space, the pressures and heat of entry into Titan’s atmosphere, the pictures themselves, and the thought of an example of Earth’s finest craftsmanship sitting on the shore of an alien sea. 

In the weeks following the tsunami we’ve seen human generosity and compassion, and now the boundless desire to learn about things unimagined in all the generations of our ancestors. 

See also: The Scotsman, UTI, and Wired.

Categories: News
  1. January 15, 2005 at 13:02 | #1

    Thank you for the look see at an amazing accomplishment. It makes you stop and think that there is more to study than the ‘reality garbage’ on tv!

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